An Afghan national army soldier displays his ammunition during a special operation in 2009. (Reuters/Jorge Silva.)
As the United States moves closer to the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan by next year, it’s been widely reported that neither the Afghan police nor the army, nor the local security forces in the provinces, are anywhere close to being ready to take over. But a new report from the Center for Civilians in Conflict, based on hundreds of interviews conducted across Afghanistan, says that the Afghan forces are also failing to protect Afghan civilians from harm. “The capacity of the Afghan government and security forces to prevent and respond appropriately to civilian casualties is woefully underdeveloped,” says the report.
That’s not to absolve the United States and the rest of the International Security Assistance Force troops for the massive harm they’ve caused since 2001 to Afghan civilians, with tens of thousands of innocents dead.
But Afghanistan has a legacy of brutal, no-holds-barred civil war, in which hundreds of thousands of people perished. Gangs, militias and warlords—including the Taliban—waged war against their own people, callously slaughtering them. As the United States and its few remaining allies depart, there’s every chance that Afghanistan could fall back into an early 1990s–style civil war, in which the very army and police forces that the United States has recruited, armed and trained will once again kill civilians willy-nilly.
The center’s report acknowledges that promising strides have been made in the way the Afghan security forces deal with civilian casualties, including limited condolence payments to the families of those killed. But vast improvements are needed. Says the report:
Numerous flaws limit the Afghan government’s ability to ease the suffering of its population and garner popular support. The problems begin immediately following a civilian casualty incident, as the ANSF infrequently investigates what happened and who was harmed, leaving many civilians who would otherwise be eligible for monetary payments overlooked. Any investigations that do occur are largely ad hoc. Infrequent reporting of civilian casualties by Afghan forces, poor access in territory controlled by armed groups, as well as the reluctance of some Afghan officials to acknowledge civilian harm caused by the ANSF, all impede investigations.
The report notes that even the slipshod investigations of civilian casualty incidents by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are often ignored: